Disney Unveils a New Princess
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
A lot of hype is created around Disney animation movies and almost always, they live up to the hype and expectations of fans (not so when it comes to their live-action remakes though). Their latest animation movie Raya and the Last Dragon too was much hyped-up and talked about prior to its release date which got delayed because of the ongoing pandemic.
The movie made its way to the silver screen recently and the fans finally got to watch it on the big screen. I too was among them since the trailer of the movie piqued my interest and I really wanted to see more of the title character's preferred mode of transport Tuk Tuk, an armadillo-like cute animal that rolls everywhere it goes.
The story revolves around Raya – a princess living in a mythical land called Kumandra – who takes it upon herself to find the last living dragon to end an unspeakable evil spreading across the kingdoms of Kumandra, turning living beings into stone and feeding greed, conflict, and separation among kingdoms. According to legends, the dragons and humans lived in harmony 500 years ago but the mythical beasts sacrificed themselves to save humanity from evil spirits known as Druun. However, their sacrifice has sort of gone in vain, because instead of being grateful to the sacrifice and uniting as human beings, the kingdoms started fighting among each other to own the last bit of dragon magic left in the world. Raya's father desperately tries to make the leaders of the kingdoms realise that fighting isn't the answer but he too falls victim to the evil, leaving little Raya to save the world on her own.
As it usually is with Disney movies, it is evident that a lot of attention to detail has been given and quite the bit of budget has been spent on production. The animation of the movie is quite pleasing and there are lots of cute and adorable characters one would immediately fall in love with. Conversely, since the movie is about how separate kingdoms are going at each other’s necks for power, there are quite a bit of battle and fight scenes, and the choreography of these fight scenes are very well done, especially considering this is an animation movie essentially for kids. While incorporating lots of different elements into the plot, the movie rather masterfully balances out each and every element. The cute ones are insanely adorable, fight scenes are creatively realistic, the jokes are actually funny, and the dramatic and emotional scenes are sure to make your heart feel heavy.
Moreover, the movie essentially introduces another princess to the Disney princess gang and this time, representing Southeast Asia. Raya is a pretty lovable character and the chemistry Raya and the last dragon – Sisu – has is pleasing to watch. The stark differences in their personalities, despite having more or less the same backstory with grief, loss, and betrayal, compliment the narrative of their stories and syncs well with the main plot as the story progresses. Special mention of Awkwafina who voices Sisu should be made since she does an excellent job. The deep voice somehow blends well with the unassuming and at times dorky characteristics of Sisu, and creates an instantly lovable character, something crucial for the success of the movie as Sisu plays a role as important as Raya’s, in the movie.
In terms of delivering its intended message, the movie does a pretty decent job. Although there are a few plot twists the movie is quite expectedly a one with a happy ending and shows how good always prevails in the end which makes the movie an ideal children’s movie.
However, the movie is not without its faults. Although it covers all the bases and ends in a rather complete manner with no major plot holes or untied ends, I personally felt as if it wouldn’t have hurt if the movie was a bit longer. This is not because it was quick-paced (because it wasn’t) but because of the high number of characters we are presented with other than Raya and Sisu. As Raya and Sisu moves from kingdom to kingdom gathering companions in her quest, we are enlightened to different types of interesting characters with their own unique backstories. However, as interesting as these backstories are, the movie gives relatively less time for these characters and focus the majority of its screen time on Raya and Sisu. Although this is not necessarily bad, it made relating to these characters a bit hard and ultimately sort of dwarfed their contribution to the main plot. Their stories were constantly kept under the shadow of the story of Raya and Sisu. It felt like a bit of a waste, given how interesting the backstories of these characters were.
Unlike any other Disney animated movie the humans in Raya and the Last Dragon were so realistic and the fight scenes were rather well-choreographed, as if it was a real live-action martial arts movie. This made the movie watchable by not just children but young adults and adults as well, however the overall plot was not as ‘adult-friendly’ as the animation and fights were. From the beginning to the very end, the movie was highly predictable. Granted, a child would not see many of the plot twists coming beforehand but for an adult guessing what is going to happen next and what ‘mind-blowing’ plot twist is around the corner is a real child’s play.
Despite these minor flaws the movie overall was a rather enjoyable one with great animations. The differences in each and every kingdom are well-planned and intricately designed. The animators have not cut some easy corners but rather have made sure almost every animation in the movie is perfect, which adds up to the overall viewer experience. While it might not live up to the standards of some other recent Disney animated movies have set, Raya and the Last Dragon certainly isn’t a bad movie and definitely worth watching.